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Metallica: The First Four Albums – “To Live Is to Die”

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Some are born into metal, but most enter it from outside. The before/after dynamic is so strong that as a subcultural initiation story, “when I became a metalhead” is, for many, as significant as religious conversion or coming out of the closet. But one brings one’s past into metal; that’s one of the ideals of folk metal. You don’t become a metalhead and lose your identity, hopefully. Beneath that metal uniform is your own self, right?

I was raised on classical music, including classical guitar. So when I discovered metal, I gravitated towards acoustic guitars and clean tones; Anthrax’ “A.D.I.” was probably the first metal riff I ever tried to play. On …And Justice for All, “To Live Is to Die” caught my ear with its deceptively pastoral intro. It sounded like music I’d heard before; it wasn’t alien.

But what followed it most definitely was. If you’re coming from outside of metal, “To Live Is to Die” is very, very strange. A medieval-sounding acoustic intro gets steamrolled slowly by a distorted march in an unrelated key. After a few minutes, the march waxes melodic, then drops into a clean tone section (which feels a lot like the one in “Master of Puppets”). Distortion comes back, then seemingly peters out before launching into a spoken word section. Then the song un-steamrolls and returns to its initial acoustic passage. It’s a mess.

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“To Live Is to Die” on cellos

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In the context of the otherwise monolithic AJFA, “To Live” is a little odd. (Thematically and musically, it’s sort of a bolted-together Frankenstein prototype of “One”.) But in the context of Metallica’s first four albums, it’s apt. So many threads have tied into Metallica at this point, from NWOBHM to classical music to Hemingway to various films. The addition of a 17th century Germany writer (Paul Gerhardt, half of the spoken word section) and the simultaneous presence of two Metallica bassists (Jason Newsted, Cliff Burton on the other half of the spoken word section) make sense as much as any of the aforementioned influences.

Metallica has many entry points – hence the band’s wide appeal. Unlike a lot of other metal, the thing called Metallica is very inclusive. Perhaps it got too inclusive later, when country music and orchestras muddied the waters. But those first four records were a big tent that attracted countless newcomers. Like me, they heard something of themselves in the music. For them – us – past became present became future forever more.

— Cosmo Lee

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“To Live Is to Die”

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“The Frayed Ends of Sanity”
“Harvester of Sorrow
“The Shortest Straw”
“Eye of the Beholder”
“…And Justice for All”
“Damage Inc.”
“Leper Messiah”
“Disposable Heroes”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“The Thing That Should Not Be”
“Master of Puppets”
“The Call of Ktulu”
“Creeping Death”
“Trapped Under Ice”
“Fade to Black”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Ride the Lightning”
“Fight Fire With Fire”
“Metal Militia”
“Seek & Destroy”
“No Remorse”
“Phantom Lord”
“(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth”
“Jump in the Fire”
“The Four Horsemen”
“Hit the Lights”

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